Here at the Daily Arts Book Review, we love, well, books. Consequently, we take pride in the organization of the things that hold those prized objects — our bookshelves. From alphabetization to color-coding to entirely random stacks, every reader has a unique way of storing and displaying their books. We think that, maybe, looking at our bookshelves can tell us a little something about ourselves. Also, as writers who regularly peer into the complex emotional lives of fictional characters, we’re nosy — and therefore, immensely curious as to what our fellow writers’ bookshelves look like. We really got into this one, so please enjoy!
– Emilia Ferrante, Senior Arts Editor, and Meera Kumar, Book Beat Editor
My bookshelf is chaos. Bright and shiny colors flash next to worn hand-me-downs, richly bound dictionaries fraternize with faded travel pocket books. There is no rhyme or reason, just books stacked, squeezed and positioned every which way to accommodate the masses. One shelf is organized by declining height, only for another to appear like the craggy peaks of a mountain.
My books find themselves with unexpected neighbors: A hardcover collection of Harry Potter books (a prized eBay find) rests next to high school literature class novels: “The Sound and the Fury,” “Catcher in the Rye” and “Lord of the Flies.” My favorite novels from every era are scattered throughout the shelves, from my third grade Warrior cats phase (hidden discreetly behind a row of taller books) to my recent favorites, displayed front and center with pride and admiration. Thrown into the mix are a handful of German books.
My bookshelf is in an uproar, each book screaming louder than the next to be read. And yet, the result, to me, is like a symphony. My childhood, my coming of age, every era of reading is laid out before me in a chaotic, but loving, tangle. Call it laziness or chaos, call it nostalgia or love — I’m not sure why my bookshelf turned out this way. Still, I love it, and so it stays the way it is.
Daily Arts Writer Emma Doettling can be reached at email@example.com.
My bookshelf is the most “that girl” I’ll never be. A hand-painted forest green shelf, fit snugly into a nook near my desk. Top shelf: the next books on my TBR (to be read) list. Bottom shelf: textbooks and notebooks. Middle shelves: everything else, organized first by genre and then by author last name — historical fiction (my largest category), poetry, fantasy, nonfiction, realistic fiction, miscellaneous. Here and there, I’ve tucked little pieces of art, like the graffiti prints I bought in Berlin or a watercolor of a woman studying. It’s beautiful, functional — everything exactly where it should be.
However, like I imagine is the case with all “those girls,” the veneer of perfection distracts from the mess hidden elsewhere. If you just turn a bit to your right, you might notice my dressers — and the uneven piles of books balanced on top of them. This is my overflow pile, a haphazard stack (taller than me) of everything that doesn’t fit on my bookshelf. Well, I should say that this is one of several overflow piles; my parents’ house has two whole overflow bookshelves with my childhood books crammed in every which way with no discernible strategy — vertically, horizontally and occasionally diagonally when that’s the only way they fit. And my boyfriend’s apartment has another two, a small one on his dresser and a larger one spanning the entire shelf above his desk (the latter, at least, is somewhat organized by genre).
I keep telling myself that I just need to wait until I graduate, and then I can move all my books to their new home: a wall of shelves in a grown-up apartment with space for all of them and more, organized just the way I like it. But, if I’m honest, it’s probably going to be a decade until I can afford an apartment big enough for that. (Yes, I just want a big apartment so that I can house more books). (Yes, I’m more distressed by all this than it’s rational to be).
Daily Arts Writer Brenna Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There really are no words left to describe the books in my room apart from organized chaos: My bookshelf isn’t really a bookshelf, but an IKEA cart loaded with, and surrounded by, stacks of books that I know not to trip on when maneuvering my way to the light switch in the mornings. To those unfamiliar, the setup seems to be a deeply unholy amalgamation of genres, colors and authors in a haphazardly scattered corner next to my dresser. However, this is ridiculously far from true: Literati Bookstore’s “Notes from a Public Typewriter” goes next to Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko” — move the fire engine–red hardcover from the grayish-blue paperback, and I’ll sense that something is off. If my Elena Ferrantes aren’t lounging, nestled in the same pile as Akwaeke Emezi’s “You Made A Fool of Death With Your Beauty,” Sloane Crosley’s “Cult Classic” and Robin Sloan’s “Sourdough,” the sanctity of my good vibes to-read or reread pile is questionable. If my annotated copy of James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk” is missing from its place on my nightstand, I might cry. Bishakh Som, Voltaire and Elizabeth Gilbert debate the future while stacked at the top of this precariously built IKEA cart, while Jane Austen looks on amusedly from a lower shelf.
This makes perfect sense to me, but it is entirely irrational and ridiculously unquantifiable, based completely on vibes and vibes only: Entirely rooted in the strength of gut feeling, this system of organization changes from day to day. However, the seemingly random generation produces subliminal ties between titles, and the jarringly different books — gifted, thrifted and bought — weave together to form an archival tapestry that depicts me in a light I can’t always control.
Daily Books Beat Editor Meera Kumar can be reached at email@example.com.
My bookshelves are cramped. Both in Ann Arbor and in my hometown, books line up neatly — sometimes in a row, sometimes sideways stacking upward — sorted by “feeling” and complementary colors. What results is a jumble of genres and personal reading eras. I have “Little House on the Prairie” (muted yellow and pink spine) sitting pretty next to a bright red wilderness adventure memoir. My copy of “Unbroken” lies against “All the Birds in the Sky” and “The Jasmine Throne.” Interspersed are my readings from being a book beat writer. “How Much of These Hills is Gold” and “None but the Righteous” class up my usual diet of science fiction and fantasy. In Ann Arbor, the genre jumble has a more practical reason. By default, books of all kinds stack up on my lone Walmart Essentials shelf that I poorly installed last August. Daily, I fear that the overworked shelf will revolt, tearing its own screws from the wall.
Both my hometown and Ann Arbor shelves fall prey to my tendency toward accidental tchotchke collection. In the gaps between books, I stuff souvenirs from gifts and events. As a rule, I don’t believe in buying tchotchkes or souvenirs that don’t serve an explicit practical purpose (you will never see me dropping $40 on a one-inch tall glass animal). But I believe in relics and memories. My bookshelves feel like collages of my childhood and young adulthood. Small woven baskets and souvenirs from fifth-grade friends who went to far away places occupy any open space.
Daily Arts Writer Elizabeth Yoon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ah, my bookshelf. My pride and joy. My safe space. Anyone who knows me knows that my bookshelf is the closest thing to a visual representation of myself as it gets. I have two poetry sections, one for 21st century poetry (including the last three years’ publications of my lit mag) and one for more classic poetry – there, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson sit peacefully side-by-side. My top shelf is for falling-apart paperbacks; on a thin shelf to the right, I have my collection of to-be-read Daily books, and I have a small grouping of nonfiction, including two collections of Aldous Huxley essays. James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son” is far away from my first-edition copy of Richard Wright’s “Native Son” to keep the peace. My Tom Robbins collection, consisting of eight paperbacks, naturally sits in a line. “Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas,” though, is right next to my Goodwill copy of “Bunnicula,” the classic children’s book, because variety is the spice of life. Next to a fake succulent from IKEA and a homemade sign from my mom is “Macbeth,” directly followed by “The Communist Manifesto.” A little further to the right on that same shelf, Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” is snuggled up against, naturally, a boxed set of the complete works of Jane Austen.
I would be remiss to describe my bookshelf only by its books, though. I have a crocheted Baby Yoda made by my housemate, a Polaroid of the Book Beat from our last meeting of the semester, a rainbow bookmark held by a plush sloth, a framed photo of my dad and me, a toy car I took from a beach in Cape Cod and a tiny plastic baby. My litany of non-book bookshelf dwellers wouldn’t be complete without due mention of my ceramic frog collection, which includes two frogs doing yoga, a frog sitting on a toilet, a frog reading a book and some plastic frog legs my friend found on the side of the road. But don’t take it from me — take it from my fellow Books writer, Andrew Pluta, who said, “You’ve really nailed the whole ‘maximalism’ thing.” Looking at my bookshelf brings me joy every single day, which is all a book beat editor can really ask for.
Senior Arts Editor Emilia Ferrante can be reached at email@example.com.
Let’s just say there’s nothing special about my small, hand-me-down, plain white bookshelf. The back of the shelf is hanging on by a thread, and if too much weight is placed on the one board, all the books collapse. The bookshelf currently sits in the closet of my childhood bedroom. Because my mother took over the closet when I left for college, there is an overwhelming amount of clothes wedged slightly in front of the bookshelf. I mean, who needs to actually see the books anyway?
For the most part, my books are separated according to the author. I tend to read and fixate on a certain author and then buy all their books. You could call it compulsion; I call it dedication. The books are stacked vertically and horizontally with no sense of organization whatsoever. Seriously, it’s a jumble of books I’ve already read and more than a few that have sat untouched for years. But if you were to ask me to find a book at random, I could probably locate it. The real showcase, however, sits next to my bookshelf: the cardboard box with the books that don’t fit on the bookshelf. I do have two canvas bags filled to the brim with books that I brought with me to college, but I’d say the bookshelf is slightly more interesting.
Daily Arts Writer Ava Seaman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My bookshelf has always been in total disarray. Titles line up in no order and with no meaning, and there is no inherent theme between each shelf. Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection lies next to Anais Nin’s diaries, and for no discernible reason, Mieko Kawakami follows this pair. My bookshelf is only beautiful for the dried flower bouquets I can stick between my thoughtless groups of books — the rest is just utility.
What’s more important to me is my book stack. Next to my floor mirror, I have a deeply curated stack of about 15 of my most loved novels. Eve Babitz is the most prevalent author here, with four of her novels taking up well-loved spaces in my stack. Both under, over and in between her novels, I have Kafka, Moshfegh and Baldwin, among others. These books do cycle out, but these authors tend to stick around more than others. Additionally, more books may be added if they are relevant to an article I’m writing or a class I’m taking. Even more importantly, they hold my two most important novels. These two absolute gems are my signed copies of “Into The Dreamhouse” by Carmen Maria Machado and “Trick Mirror” by Jia Tolentino. The latter lies atop my book stack like a jeweled crown. All around, my thoughtful book stack is consistently the most well-loved and well-cared-for part of my room.
Daily Arts Writer Ava Burzycki can be reached at email@example.com.
I was recently given a chance to completely redesign my bookshelf when my family and I moved into our new house. As a 20-year-old college student, moving houses was a strange feeling. Sometime quite soon, I too would be moving out of my parents’ home and venturing off into the world on my own. Because of this, I wanted to ensure that my new room exuded and oozed my personality from every corner. I filled my room to the brim with stuffed animals, figurines, decorations and more — they did not necessarily match with one another, but they screamed “Zoha.”
At last, I organized my books. I gathered all the books in the house, which included novels from my childhood, my mom’s John Grisham collection, my grandma’s old Agatha Christie collection from the ’80s, discarded children’s tales my sisters read as kids, religious books and more. I stuffed them in every and any space I could find. First, I filled my bookshelf. Then, I opted to stack the rest in the sills of each of the four windows in my room.
My collection and display of books represent my journey with literature. When you scan the room, you will see everything from Geronimo Stilton novels to Percy Jackson to organic chemistry textbooks. It not only represents my journey, but it represents my family’s. I have my mom, grandma and sister’s books on display, an ode to their journeys with literature. It’s a little chaotic, but I find beauty in the mess. And it’s still not finished — there will always be more books to be bought, read and shelved.
Daily Arts Writer Zoha Khan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I long for the day when I can move into a more permanent residence and construct a luxurious home for all of my books; for now, though, my hardcovers and paperbacks must reside in the cozy closet of my childhood home. Here, their position is determined by a hierarchy of categorization. This hierarchy differs by shelf, depending on the types of books that need to be grouped together.
On the top shelf, for example, are books I’ve read for leisure. The Harry Potter series is nestled in the left corner, followed closely by contemporary memoirs and nonfiction (which are sorted by author). After nonfiction comes contemporary fiction, poetry and short stories.
The shelf underneath is essentially a shrine to J.R.R. Tolkien. A handful of companions and guides to his Lord of the Rings universe sit in the corner, followed by a smattering of literary scholarship on his career. This is followed by his own scholarship (organized by publication date), and then his non–Lord of the Rings fiction (I particularly love his short stories). Finally, to crown it all off, I have every work of writing set in the Lord of the Rings universe, organized by in-universe chronology. These are, of course, bookended by extended editions of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies.
The shelf below the shrine is only marginally tamer. British literature is sorted first by century, then by author; American literature is not sorted at all, because I think American literature is boring; my sci-fi collection is lacking, mostly consisting of the dozen or so books that make up Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game universe.
On the bottom shelf rests pre-1650s literature. Of course, I have some of my favorite Shakespeare plays, along with a few Shakespeare-inspired adaptations. I have “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” with “Beowulf” thrown in for good measure. Then, plopped between those, is my collection of religious literature and scholarship.
In surveying my beloved bookshelf, I’ve noticed how clearly it tracks the trajectory of my life and how well it reflects some of my most deeply-held interests. It’s wonderful, really, to have my most personal thoughts projected by something as beautiful as a collection of bound paper. I’m glad to share it here.
Daily Arts Writer Tate Lafrenier can be reached at email@example.com.
My bookshelf is the first thing you would notice if you walked into my room. It sits smack-dab in the middle, nearly as tall as me (I’m short but not that short) and reaches the length of half my room. With such size, most of the shelves are home to random knickknacks, little (unfortunately dried-out) succulents, board games, pictures, candles and a film-less Polaroid that my bank account prevents me from using. On my shelves, there, of course, also lies an assortment of books, all hand-picked as the beginning of my personal library to represent any genre I may have dabbled with over the years. From fantasy to historical fiction, nonfiction to science fiction, bibliographies to poetry, classics to manga, I’ve tried to capture it all.
Looking at my books, besides the books in a series that I naturally keep together, it may seem that there is no rhyme or reason to how I organize them. But with the relatively small size of my collection, I decided to organize them in, admittedly, a rather peculiar way — by texture. As I believe almost any reader can relate to, one of the best things about books is the way they feel. Whether it’s paperback or hardcover, all books have a distinct texture to them. The way the cover and the pages feel, the way the book bends and creases in your hands as you read, gives character to the book beyond the words on the pages. And so, that’s how I like to organize my books — those that feel the same or similar, that give me the same vibes, side-by-side.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this organization lends to my bookshelves looking a bit jumbled or all over the place. But, as the centerpiece of my room and with its multi-purpose function, I like to think of my bookshelf as a crash course on me, on my different likes and interests — all the different textures of my life. It may not make much sense or seem unnecessary, but that’s okay. It’s the way I like it. Even if most people won’t look at my shelf with any serious contemplation, or if it, in reality, just looks random and poorly organized, that’s okay. Because my bookshelf is for me, and I love it.
Daily Arts Contributor Noah Lusk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I chose the smallest room in our leased house, to my roommates’ surprise, for the two stout shelves installed in a pleasant nook adjoining the bed. Though only three feet long each, the scant space still sufficed to display most of my ever-growing collection. With only a few dozen titles with me at college, I could hardly indulge in alphabetizing or genre-codifying. Instead, I divided my shelves into four quadrants, each separated by a bronzed bookend.
The top shelf with the slight sag seems less capable of bearing the weight of ponderous classics and textbooks, so instead, the top right holds lightweight paperbacks — mostly novels I’ve read for The Daily. Along with those guilt-ridden titles swiped from the books bin I have yet to review, these books remind me of the reviews I’ve pieced together and the happy work of The Daily.
The top left contains even lighter fare: travel guides, small cookbooks, lithe poetry booklets and a smattering of old New Yorkers. There’s no order to the jumble, and that’s okay — I select these at random, when distracted by a hunger for adventure (culinary or otherwise).
The bottom right shelf, in contrast, is the most carefully cultivated. Here, works of historical fiction by Ken Follett surround biographies, while dramatized history by Erik Larson and Graham Moore crowd the edges. The nonfiction clashes with Cormac McCarthy and Anthony Doer, but the books all share a common heritage: their connection to the past. This is the reading I’m most proud of, the collection which guides me.
Finally, the bottom left quadrant contains my academic reading. Titles I received for a class are kept segregated from my personal reading with diligence. “Do not corrupt this space of relaxation,” the bronzed dividers seem to say. Books by Tolstoy and Melville jostle with their duller, more esoteric counterparts (the results of a history major), while slimmer titles by Kant and Mill announce the small, but vocal, presence of a philosophy minor. Although a glance at these books reminds me of my obligations, as I prepare to graduate from college, they’ve become a comforting presence, a reminder that learning can continue beyond the confines of the lecture hall.
Daily Arts Writer Sam Mathisson can be reached at email@example.com.